Three Defence Strategies for Living at Work

This is written by an academic for academics, but maybe it’s useful for others. Tl;dr, here they are:

  1. Only have work email on your work computer and keep it in one place in your home. If you have other devices, keep it off them.
  2. Order your off hours.
  3. Have Zoom free workdays.

Sometime in the summer when it was possible to see people in person outdoors, my friend Derek (quoting someone else) said we academics are not working from home. We are living at work. I found it a profound and generative realization. Now as the year has gone on, despite the fact that I love most parts of my job, I have been feeling a bit more violated by the combination of confinement and specific demands on me. So I’ve built some separation from work through other means. It seems to be helping.

  1. Like many academics, in addition to my computer, I also have a phone and iPad. Those other devices used to have my McGill email on them, though I would shut it down for vacations. I did that for winter break, and I just…kept….going. So when it’s 9:30 at night and I’m watching a dumb show, and my mind wanders, and I scroll the internet, I don’t accidentally see anything for my job. The computer pretty much lives on my desk (though it’s a laptop so it can leave if it has to). That means work emails get dealt with in one place.
  2. I also have structured off days and times. I think parents already do this (though they also need downtime of their own). But not having kids, all time is potential work time, which is not good. I’ve been losing half a day to a day per week this term to fatigue or medical appointments or something else, but I only “make up” the stuff I have to make up; and I always make sure to have 1 day on the weekend where no “work work” gets done.
  3. Back in the “before,” research university profs like me were not constantly always available for meetings. We had days blocked off for working from home and days for being on campus (note: other people used their offices differently–this is just me). Maybe you’d take a phone call or something but there was a big difference between on-campus and off-campus days, and the off-campus days with longer stretches of unbroken time are super important for writing, course prep, grading, and letters of rec (among other things). Carrie installed Zoom-free days in the fall, and I followed.

Not everyone can do each of these things, but since I can, I’ve tried them, and they are helping a bit.